Sunday, May 27, 2007
Artist: DACM/Gisèle Vienne
Venue:The Tramway, Glasgow, Friday 25th May 2007
White. Everywhere. Snow on the ground. Smoke in the air. Figures stand and sit. Huddled on themselves, hooded tops and jackets to keep them warm. About 10 of them. All facing in the one direction. In front of them - a stage, stacked speakers, laptops, reel to reel, a guitar and microphone stand. In front of that - a coffin, a body lying there. The body rises. Slow motion. A monster revealed, monster mask and clawed hands. Shuffling through the snow, the figure stops, removes the mask and gloves. A voice over, talks about growing up, about being and adult, about how they can’t imagine that, though they can imagine becoming 16. Sinking to their knees, the dead crawls across the floor, headed towards two girls sitting together. One of the guys, Jonathan, steps up to the microphone, thanks people for coming to the funeral, and introduces the band, who the dead person liked.
The girls look at each other, the dead crawling closer. A sound spins round the audience. Chains, bells, something clanking and haunted, running around the back of the stage, running around the back of the audience. Two devils erupt on to the stage. In a slow motion world they move at full speed. Huge fur covered beasts, horns on their heads, balls filled with bells strapped to their backs. They grab the dead, lifting the body from the ground, kicking it, beating it, snow flies everywhere. Jonathan at the same time attacks the two girls, throws their bodies from the stage, and they go flying.
The beating done. The devils strip. Revealing just two guys in costume. They stand at the back of the stage. Drinking beer from the crates stacked there, having a smoke, enjoying the music. And the band plays on. A guy in a suit with laptops, a long haired guy tattooed with a guitar, and slow motion goth rock mannequin girl, making rock love to a microphone as though caught in a time warp. From here the piece revolves around sound and time and fantasy. Jonathan’s fantasies are voiced by dreams, conversations with his dead friend. The darkness, imagination, murder and rape. There are moments of sex and death, one of the stripped beasts kisses Jonathan, then attacks him, then the tables are turned, Jonathan strips the beast naked and threatens to rape him. Some of the dialogue is immature, childish, the delusions of a teen who imagines the beginning of the world as a Black Sabbath soundtrack, who imagines power as how many people he can kill and how hard he can get.
And the snow comes down. And the guitars play on. The stage is scattered with still figures, the cast made up of mannequins, emotionless objects. Perfect foils for the handful of people who are actually alive, even if I do swear I saw some of them move at times. The dead are buried and it all comes to an end.
Kindertotenlieder is an intense and sparse piece. Unclear whether it is dance or theatre or gig. Haunting and charged, the still figures have an uncanny presence, defining a non-space which the performers move in and out of as they stand still before moving back into action once more. A collaboration between American novelist Dennis Cooper and French/Austrian choreographer Gisèle Vienne. Vienne is the force and the mastermind of the piece, pursuing Cooper and encouraging him to become involved. Giving him a list of interests and influences, particularly aspects of Austrian culture strong with teenage boys - the annual rituals of finding the scariest mask, the confusion that forms a world view, friendships that flirt with homosexuality and homophobia, the undercurrents of violence. Cooper then shaped that into a text, defining the setup, the flow, the dialogue that is voiced over the piece. The dialogue and its delivery reminds me of Donnie Darko, the hallucinated conversations between Donnie and the monster bunny Frank, extended into an ongoing piece, where reality starts to become increasingly peripheral.
The collaboration is rounded out by the music. Peter Rehberg, the London born musician, who records mainly under the name Pita, and is closely involved with the Austrian label Mego, has been involved with Gisèle Vienne before on Showroom Dummies. Wanting to capture some of the metal, ritualistic aspects of the scene that was at the heart of the piece, Vienne approached Steven O’Malley, of SunnO))) and Khanate, at a SunnO))) gig and got talking to him. When he suggested that he might be interested in working with her, she put him together with Rehberg and got them to work together on a soundtrack to Cooper’s text. The result was the first KTL CD released by Mego, parts of which are performed live on stage with the performance. As the piece evolved, different pieces of music were needed, so KTL evolved further, providing a second set of music to work more with the end result, released more recently as KTL 2.
The performers are only actually five people on stage, the rest of the cast being made up by dummies, an idea that Vienne has used in several of her previous pieces, though as she explained at the Q&A the next evening, before the last performance in Glasgow, they are something she hadn’t finished exploring. As always, Tramway 1 is a great space, a huge square in this instance, covered in white material with the figures scattered around it, with overhead rigs set up to add more snow in a heavy shower at the climax. To go with the three performances, which mark the UK premiere of the piece, Cooper and Vienne did the Q&A in the mezzanine of the Tramway café, an in depth discussion of the process and how the whole piece came together, while Rehberg and O’Malley play a KTL gig tonight without the performance.
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